This week’s challenging and pesky little collection of words were:
refresh :: firm handshake :: poach :: salary :: jazz
And here is what I made of them…
Café au Clay
He walks into Café Refresh, six minutes to eight on the nose, like he’s done every weekday morning for the past year and a half. He puts away his phone with a flourish as he walks through the door, exactly like he did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. He nods his head, absentmindedly, to the smooth jazz playing softly over the speakers as he stands in line for his coffee. He searches the board, like he’s making a well-considered choice. He even frowns, just a little, like he’s thinking hard about what to order.
Today is going to be the day. I’m ready.
Three people between us.
‘Morning!’ I’ll have a…’
‘Regular Americano and a brown scone, no jam. Comin’ right up.’ The coffee is already starting to pour, and his tray is trimmed. I saved the nicest scone I could find and kept it to one side for him, first thing when I came in this morning. I folded up a napkin, and made sure his knife was gleaming. I even put his butter into a little pot.
As I speak, he leans back a little, blinking.
‘Well. You’re on the ball today!’ he says, with a laugh. Maybe it’s the surprise in his voice, and maybe it’s the mirth, but suddenly, I feel stupid. My hand shakes, making the spoon tinkle against his coffee mug. He takes hold of the tray and steadies my grip, and I find myself wondering whether he has a firm handshake, and whether he plays sport. What he does at weekends. Whether he reads poetry. What he likes…
Then I see him looking at me with a raised eyebrow, and I feel like someone’s filled my head with boiling water.
‘Right, well… um. That’ll be four twenty-five, please, sir.’
‘As it always is,’ he says, handing me a crisp five-euro note. I ring up his purchase and the till pops open. I reach over to give him back his change, but he’s already walking towards the milk-and-sugar station.
‘No, no, love – you keep the shrapnel,’ he says, over his shoulder. ‘God knows your salary can’t be up to much. Or is it ‘wages’, just, when you’re in the service industry?’ His voice is too loud, and I feel like my heart is too big, suddenly, its thump filling my whole chest. I watch his shoulders as he chuckles, and I burn.
He walks back past me again, throwing me a wink.
‘Keep up the good work, and you might even find a Starbucks talent-spotter coming in here to poach you. If you keep your nose clean, that is.’
He snorts with laughter as he finds his way towards his normal window seat. He opens his newspaper with a crack, and gets lost inside the business pages.
I breathe. I unlock my teeth.
I put his change into my pocket, and I think: Tomorrow morning, I’ll swap the sugar sachets with salt. We’ll see who’s laughing then.
This is such a good idea! I love how you worked the prompts in, they weave through so well. The only thing that felt a little off to me was that her transition of emotion wasn’t quite as fully rounded as it could have been – I didn’t quite get the emotional whump that it could have had but I love the turn at the end 🙂
Yeah, I see what you mean. That’s probably due to the fact that I wanted to keep the story sub-500 words! Oh, well. At least, if the idea’s good, I can work on the content.
Thanks, as always, for your feedback. 🙂
Yes absolutely! I always think these WWI pieces are like first or at least very early drafts – I’d always rather people give me critiques than just praise so I can improve them 😀
I read ‘WWI’ as ‘World War I’ just there, which led to some confusion in my addled brain… 😀
Yes, the Wednesday Write In pieces (I’ll have to retrain my eye to pick up ‘WWI’ as ‘Wednesday Write In!’), are great to draft out ideas. I really find them helpful, in so many ways. Thanks again for all your effort! 🙂
Interesting story! I thought it was a great illustration of how communication is multi-faceted, what you say and do, body language and so on, and how misunderstandings are created. I know because I do it all the time. 😀
I think there are very few human beings who live their lives communicating perfectly and expertly with all their fellows. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Tessa.
‘I feel like someone’s filled my head with boiling water’ – what a great phrase! At first I read it as her having a crush on the customer. Then I had to go back and reread it as a simply superb description of anger.
A story with hidden depths.
It’s a great evocation of the character we all know so well – the smart-alec!
Thanks! Yep, the boiling water was supposed to be anger, and also embarrassment, probably. She does (or did!) have a crush on the customer, too, but I think she’s probably seen the light by the end of the story… 😀
Thanks a lot for your lovely comment. 🙂
I can really feel her embarrassment. His talking too loudly is cringe inducing! The idea of heat to signify her embarrassment is very effective. You write him well,too. He has so little diplomacy about anything. I am glad she has learned quickly and that she’s not going to continue down this path thinking she might change him.
Thanks a million. As Sarah Grace said, I don’t think I handled her emotional arc as well as I could have done – the change from her swooning to her being angry is a bit abrupt. I’m glad you could feel her embarrassment, though, and that you felt he was written well. I’m really grateful for the feedback. 🙂
I like the title, Café au Clay – as in ‘feet of clay’ perhaps? Her prince turned out to be a frog. Nice one!
Yes! That’s exactly what it’s supposed to evoke. *breathes a sigh of relief* 🙂 Thanks for your comment.
I love how this works like an anti love story with a great beginning middle and end. It’s also like a groundhog day spell is broken!I love how you use temperature to sensually evoke her emotions for the epiphany moment and how you reveal what’s going to happen next with her plan for revenge (love the plan by the way- a great subversion& use of her power!) so much in such a small space – great stuff!
Thanks, Emmaleene! What a lovely comment. 🙂